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David Clarke interviews… OSSIE ARDILES exclusive

davidscwnewAs a young player Ossie Ardiles was smaller than the other boys around him so he wouldn’t pass the ball much – he would just dribble and dribble and dribble. Much like Maradona and Lionel Messi. His brother called him Piton, the snake. In this exclusive interview Soccer Coach Weekly’s David Clarke spoke to him about youth soccer, Argentina legends and Japanese success

Most recently Ossie Ardiles was the coach of Machida Zelvia in the second tier of the Japanese J-League, but a 23-year coaching career has taken the Argentinian World Cup winner around the world. As player-manager he introduced a flamboyant style of football to Swindon Town in his first coaching job, achieving promotion to the top flight in 1990 (only for the FA to strip the club of this honour for off-the-field irregularities).

Three years later he took West Brom to Division One and later made headlines in the Premier League with a cavalier Spurs side notable for fielding five forwards. After relocating to Japan he was named J-League Manager Of The Year in 1998 for his work with Shimizu S-Pulse. He won the first stage of the J-League with Yokohama F Marinos in 2000 and the Emperor’s Cup with Tokyo Verdy five years later.

He has also enjoyed spells managing clubs in Mexico, Argentina, Paraguay, Croatia, Israel and Saudi Arabia, giving him a truly global view of the game – but wherever he has coached, he has always brought a certain Ossie style to the job.

DAVID Having coached four clubs in England, is the Premier League the best in the world?
OSSIE“The Premier League is certainly the most watched and the richest – and it attracts the best players in the world because of these reasons. Yes, I would imagine it’s the best league in the world.”

ardiles2You have enjoyed several stints in Japan. What is it about the Japanese game that attracts you?
“The J-League started in 1993 and I came soon after. I think the J-League is and was the model of how professional football should be marketed for the fans. In Japan I have won the League and The Emperors Cup and I have been told that I also have more victories than any other foreign coach in the league’s history.”

Who have been the coaches that have impressed you the most in Japan?
“There have been some great coaches in Japan: the Brazilian legend Zico, Hans Ooft from Holland, and of course Arsene Wenger. Wenger to me was special – you knew his teams would play football, the beautiful game as Pelé called it. I know his time in Japan influenced him and like me he loved the culture. Since leaving Japan I am not surprised to see he stuck with all his beliefs about the way the game should be played and the way to behave civilly and with respect – the Japanese way.”

Japanese women are world champs and the men are champions of Asia. Why has their game been so successful?
“You need to understand the Japanese culture. Like every aspect of their lives, great attention and care is spent on detail, studying whatever they want to establish and then replicating and improving it. Football was no different. The professional league was marketed to perfection, so the fans supported the game. The Japanese also think long term so youth development was always a priority for the Japanese Football Association. The success of Japanese players and teams today is a result of their youth development programmes.”

As a long-standing champion of youth development and the education of coaches, what programmes have impressed you in Japan?
“In my 17 years here, the programme that has impressed me most, and the one that has dominated nationally, has been the Coerver programme. I remember in the early years they started with a few schools and today they have over 100 schools all over the country. I am a close friend with Alf Galustian, who is a co-founder of the programme and the driving force behind it, so I have always kept a close interest.”

alf2What is so special about the contribution of Alf Galustian and Coerver to football in Japan?
“Alf is without doubt a global pioneer in youth coaching. I am still amazed with the new drills, games and concepts he continually comes up with. His contribution to Japanese football development is without question. “Over these past 20 years he has influenced the way football is taught in Japan and the subsequent success of the game here. “Currently more than 17,000 young players go through the Coerver programme each week, and in the past 20 years over 300 players have gone into J-League clubs and some to the various national teams – that’s an amazing contribution to the game in Japan.”

After winning the 1978 World Cup, was it difficult to adjust to playing your football in England?

“It took me a while. In those days the long ball game – getting the ball into opposition’s third, often bypassing midfield – was strange to me. But at Spurs we had Glenn Hoddle, and Ricky Villa came with me too, so Spurs always tried to play passing football and that suited me.”

Would you say there is an Ossie Ardiles way of playing soccer?

“Yes. I have always believed in the passing game. My style is about possession but also always trying for the forward pass. I have always believed in attacking, as a player and as a manager – I have often been sacked for these beliefs but I will never change. Football is a technical game and that’s where its beauty is.”

messiOssie’s Verdict Maradona or Messi?
“It’s very close and they’re both fellow Argentinians. I think it would be Messi, but I have to qualify that. Maradona was the best player I played with by a mile. I have never seen such a skilled player. He could control the ball on any surface, in any space, and whatever the pressure he was put under. But Messi is playing in an era when there is improved knowledge in sports science about what you eat, drink, and how you prepare. Today the boots and the ball are superior. Today the fields are all unbelievable. So when people speak about comparisons between players like Maradona and Messi, all these factors should be taken into consideration.”

Ossie’s Coaching Career
1989–91: Swindon Town (England)
1991–92: Newcastle United (England)
1992–93: West Brom (England)
1993–94: Tottenham Hotspur (England)
1995: Guadalajara (Mexico)
1996–98: Shimizu S-Pulse (Japan)
1999: Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)
2000–01: Yokohama F Marinos (Japan)
2001: Al-Ittihad (Saudi Arabia)
2002–03: Racing Club (Argentina)
2003–05: Tokyo Verdy (Japan)
2006–07: Beitar Jerusalem (Israel)
2007: Huracán (Argentina)
2008: Cerro Porteño (Paraguay)
2012: Machida Zelvia (Japan)


Top 10 mistakes parents make about sport

David ClarkeBy David Clarke

Parents have a big influence on the type of player their child becomes. Parents have powerful emotions generated through their involvement with their children, which can be both positive enablers and negative barriers.

These will have wide-ranging and long-lasting influences on those young players. Parents need to look at the “big picture” issues and responsibilities, and not fall into making the common mistakes which abuse this power.

Top 10 mistakes

  1. Taking their child’s sport experience too seriously, and not mixing in the appropriate levels of fun and recreation.
  2. Expecting perfection in their child.
  3. Living vicariously – as though they were taking part themselves – through their child’s sport experiences.
  4. Making negative comments about other children, parents or coaches.
  5. Having an unrealistically overblown assessment of their child’s talent.
  6. Contradicting the advice and guidance of their child’s teachers, trainers and coaches, leading to the child being confused and torn in loyalties.
  7. Failing to realise when their child is developing their skills rather than being competitive.
  8. Failing to see the value of sports lessons as preparation for life itself.
  9. Not realising that their child can learn valuable sport and life lessons even when they lose.
  10. Labelling their child a choker or other name.

Tactics at short goal kicks can free up a congested midfield

David Clarke

Temperatures have plummeted over the past few weeks and the result has been that a number of games have been called off. My side couldn’t dodge a frozen pitch, but one of our younger teams managed to get their match on, so I went along to watch them.

They are a good team and have a clever coach who is always ready to try things out during matches if he sees a problem. During the match, his goalkeeper was not having much luck from goal kicks.

Every time he kicked the ball it was going into a packed midfield and the opposition’s physical advantage in the centre meant they were often emerging with the ball. In fact, the opening goal had come as a direct result of a goal kick coming straight back from midfield. With his team losing 2-0 at half-time, it was clear the coach had to change something.

The first thing he did was alter the routine of the goal kicks to give his keeper more options.

He got two defenders to drop short left and right of the goal so the keeper could play a simple pass to ensure that his team retained possession. When this happened, the opposition players moved forward to close down, something that freed up space in the midfield area. As you might expect, this made a huge difference straight away, and having previously been overrun in the middle third, the team were now finding it easier to build attacking moves.

His mobile defenders also utilised space down the line, with attacking midfielders able to take the ball forward further, frequently sending dangerous crosses in towards the near post. After his team had won a succession of corner kicks they scored to pull the scoreline back to 2-1. In working harder to win the ball from goal kicks, the opposition lost a lot of their attacking speed and were less able to get the ball forward.

The match had effectively been turned on its head, all because of a change in the goal kick routine. The team had a number of chances to equalise but couldn’t take them, but that’s football. Nonetheless, they had won the second half 1-0, and learned a great lesson in tactics at the same time.

I love to see goalkeepers playing short balls to the wide defenders. If watch the video clip below of Victor Valdes the Barcelona goalkeeper continually playing short balls against Real Madrid. Even after he makes a mistake he continues to pass the ball short.

I could watch this all day!

Soccer AM showboat clips


I read a fascinating interview with the great Zico in The Observer (English national newspaper) this weekend.

As a boy growing up and becoming interested in soccer, Zico was one of my favourite players. A truly dynamic, impossibly skilful, imaginative forward, it transpires that Zico is an equally inspiring coach.

After spells coaching a Japan club side and then the Japan national team, Zico became coach of Turkish side Fenerbahce in 2006. Fenerbahce’s ambitious desire to become one of the top clubs in Europe doesn’t seem so far-fetched when you consider that they are in the Champions League quarter-final, going into a second leg against Chelsea already leading 2-1.

His coaching philosophy is straightforward and consists of two central principles:

1. Dialogue
2. Teaching through repetition

And unsurprisingly, he does not compromise on how he thinks the game should be played:

“There are too many defensive teams around, with players passing the ball sideways instead of going for it. I like my players to have fun and attack”

For Zico, dialogue means talking with his players rather simply than issuing instructions. He is not concerned with straitjacketing his players or imposing strict roles. Instead, he prefers to give them freedom to make their own choices and decisions. He uses dialogue to show his players their potential then gives them the freedom to go out and reach that potential for the team.

Simple training is the second central principle that Zico applies with his players. Most Brazilian coaches, and indeed most of the top coaches in world club soccer focus their attention on tactics. Zico, however, prefers to emphasize the basics:

“For me, playing football is a mechanical thing, like cleaning your teeth. You need to learn the movements and have them in your head: controlling, passing, shooting, heading, crossing… it is all about training.”

This may seem like a simplistic approach to the game at such a high level, but you can’t argue with his results.

It strikes me that Zico’s coaching philosophy is very similar to what I should be doing as a youth soccer coach. In the past I’ve struggled to make the connection between what, say, Manchester United do, and what we have to do in our own little grassroots universe.

Zico’s approach has made that connection for me and I can see that if I follow that path – dialogue combined with coaching simple core skills – our players and our team will improve and everyone, including our spectators, will have more fun.

Dwyer Scullion, publisher, Better Soccer Coaching

Players Coaching Each Other

My Under 8s side have been doing extremely well lately, but regular readers of Better Soccer Coaching will know that wedwyerscullion.jpg started our season back in September with humble ambitions.

We didn’t have any outstanding players. You know, the kind that you can rely on to score regularly. As a coach I simply wanted to do what I could to help them progress as players and to have as much fun as is humanly possible on a freezing cold English Saturday morning. My stated ambition was for the team to score a goal before Christmas, and maybe push on to win a match by the end of the season.

Well, as things panned out, we actually got our first few goals in October but we were still a long way off winning a game. However, our fortunes took a dramatic turn when we managed to acquire the registration of a local boy who started training with us in the new year.

Now, this boy is really something special. He’s fast, skillful, smart, he looks up, and he has a left foot that Liverpool FC could certainly be doing with at the moment. Best of all, he is an absolutely delightful young boy. He supports his team mates at every opportunity. He’s always smiling. He’s never rude and he’s keen to learn as much as he can about the game.

Now we can’t stop winning. We’ve beaten the two strongest teams in our local area 4-0 and 6-0. We’re in danger of actually winning the Cup! Talk about Bad News Bears done good!

But here’s the thing. This weekend just gone by we had to make do without our star player, and quite a few others, and our squad was down to bare bones. We lost 2-0 but the message to the boys who played was that it was far and away our best ever performance. I saw cute little drag-backs, step-overs, passing into space, one-twos. I heard players pointing to each other to cover different areas of the pitch. I saw real determination to play “proper” passing, attractive football – not the kick-and-rush style that so many of us were brought up on.

So where did this all come from? I think our new star player has had an immeasurable influence on his peers, and not just in the way he plays. Sure, they all want to be able to dribble and shoot like young Ben and that aspiration has clearly raised their individual skill levels.

But I think it’s as much to do with the way he supports his team mates. I think they see him being attentive and respectful to the coaches. They respond to his encouragement and the fact that he never berates his team mates. They hear they way he communicates with the other players and, because, he’s such a great player, they can’t help but want to copy him.

In that regard he’s possibly a more effective coach than I could ever be.

Dwyer Scullion, Better Soccer Coaching publisher

Soccer and Football….It’s Only a Word

dwyerscullion.jpgIt’s Only a Word

“Why would I buy one of your products when you don’t even know what the game’s called?”

So reads a response I received to an email marketing one of our weekly subscription services. In fact, I’ve edited that down to remove one or two expletives. This respondant was – you guessed it – English, and he/she was upset at our use of the word “soccer” rather than “football”.

I’ve heard the same sentiment voiced by respected radio journalists, one high profile match commentator intoning the word “soccer” in a syrupy and exaggerated American accent.

For the purposes of this posting I’m going to stick to my guns and use the word “soccer”. I’m Irish and was raised to refer to the Beautiful Game as “football”. But I’m comfortable using the word soccer. I have absolutely no problem with it.

Readers with a slightly wider world view will be aware that the reason we at Better Soccer Coaching use the expression is because we are an online publisher with a global market and a huge proportion of that market play a game called soccer.

That game has the same rules, the same beauty, passion, excitement, thrills and spills as what we in England insist on referring to as football. They love it just as much as we do. They may not have been playing it for quite as long, and they may not have the same proud tradition of freezing cold stadiums selling poisonous pies and watery beer, but they love the game just as much.

As I mentioned I was brought up in Ireland playing Gaelic football, basketball and football. In the last 12 months, working at Better Soccer Coaching and dealing with coaches from around the world I’ve grown used to using the expression soccer. So much so that it’s started to slip into my daily conversation. However, when I say “soccer” to my fellow coaches at my local club I’m treated with a combination of ridicule and scorn. Clearly, I know nothing about the game.

But we’re all coaches. We share the same values and ambitions for our players and our teams. Whether we refer to the game as soccer or football makes not a jot of difference. In the UK and Europe we borrow liberally from American culture in music, fashion, art, cinema and lifestyle (McDonald’s anyone? – a significant sponsor of grassroots football – I mean, soccer – in the UK).

You can bet your bottom dollar (pun intended) that when Manchester Utd and Arsenal play an exhibition match in Boston or Los Angeles they will be perfectly happy to market the event as a soccer match.

But culture is culture and you can’t change it overnight. For those UK and European coaches who baulk at the word soccer, maybe the thing to do is build a website just for them. Watch this space.